jailbird for justice

March 12, 2014

frederick four by ccan

The Frederick Four: me, Steve Bruns, Joanna LaFollette and Sweet Dee Frostbutter.
//photo by Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The police citation says I was charged with willfully obstructing and hindering free passage of others in a public place “against the peace, government, and dignity of the state.”

Along with three other activists, I blocked the doors to the Frederick County Courthouse last week as part of a peaceful protest against Dominion’s planned compressor station in Myersville, as well as its proposal to build a $3.8 billion giant facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and haul it off to Asia. We were the Frederick Four.

Dominion’s planned actions are far less peaceful and dignified than ours.

In Myersville, one division of Dominion wants to build an oversized, air-polluting compressor station for fracked gas against the wishes of the town’s residents and officials. In Cove Point in Calvert County, the scheme of another Dominion division involves a gas-fired power plant that would yield no power for Marylanders; storage tanks of toxic and combustible chemicals; a long list of air pollutants; and a six-story-tall-by-three-quarters-of-mile-long wall. The super-cooled gas in its liquid form would get to Asia on tanker ships fueled by the dirtiest of oils, bunker fuel, which coats and suffocates wildlife when it spills. This plan too has aroused resident fury, although Lusby officials seem happy to support and deal in secret with Dominion.

And the gas for both these facilities would come from fracking all over the Marcellus and other shales that lie under our homes, schools, businesses, farms, playgrounds, parks and rivers. Even though scientists and physicians are raising grave questions about the wisdom of allowing this industry to operate in our backyards, particularly because of the millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals, the noise and countless diesel truck trips. And even though fracked gas is a bridge to a catastrophic 6 degrees F of warming on our planet.

But Dominion’s CEOs won’t be pondering their willful obstruction of our safe passage in our communities in a 7-by-11-foot dull yellow, concrete block cell anytime soon.

Our civil disobedience action was the second in as many weeks. Previously, four activists were arrested in Cumberland. We are making clear that — as much as Dominion denies it — Cove Point has everything to do with fracking and the connecting web of pipelines and compressor stations that would run through our communities. We are saying that rushing ahead with these plans without a thorough environmental review of health, environmental and climate effects puts us all at risk.

ann nau being interviewed photo by ccan

Ann Marie Nau being interviewed at the rally.//photo by CCAN

“We stand together,” Ann Marie Nau told a WFMD radio reporter at the rally. “We stand with Western Maryland. We stand with Lusby. We stand with Myersville. We stand with all the other communities that are impacted. Myersville matters, Lusby matters. Western Maryland matters. And we stand up for one another.”

At the rally before the arrests, we read our statements. Steve Bruns, who’s running for an at-large Frederick County commissioner seat, blasted the gas industry’s PR campaign to promote fracked gas as clean and safe, as well as Dominion’s lawsuit against Myersville and the Maryland Department of the Environment to force approval of the compressor station within a mile of the town’s elementary school and evacuation center. “This sort of contempt for the health and safety of the people of Maryland is unacceptable in a democratic society. If our government isn’t getting the message, then we’re just going to have to crank up the volume,” he said.

Sweet Dee Frostbutter, who grew up playing in the forests and fields of Calvert County and lives in Frederick, said: “This place and these people mean too much to me to stand by and just watch that happen. We have to resist, and I hope you’ll join us!” In June 2011, Sweet Dee was a cook on the weeklong, 50-mile March on Blair Mountain to stop another form of extreme energy extraction: the blasting away of that mountaintop to excavate the coal. The same mountain where, in the summer of 1921, 10,000 armed coal miners battled for the right to form a union against strikebreakers and lawmen hired by mine operators.

“Maryland could virtually turn into one large industrial zone and be sacrificed for energy being shipped overseas,” said Joanna LaFollette of Frederick. Joanna, who has asthma in a county that has a mortality rate from air pollution among the highest in the nation, was there in place of her son Dylan Petrohilos, whose arrest for civil disobedience at a frack-sand processing plant in Boone, N.C., was still being processed.

At a small rally in a plaza in front of the courthouse, we held signs and a banner, “Stop Cove Point.” We chanted, “Myersville is not for sale,” “Lusby is not for sale,” “Garrett County is not for sale” and “Allegany County is not for sale.” Sweet Dee made up the best chant, a syncopated “We gotta beat back, the frack attack, we gotta beat beat back, that frack attack.”

After about 30 minutes, one of the officers said we had to leave the plaza because we lacked a permit for a rally. Instead, the four of us risking arrest moved closer to the courthouse to block the doors. We chanted more and tried singing a verse of “This Land Is Your Land.”  Eventually, Sweet Dee and Joanna were given one more warning and then arrested. A few minutes later, police gave Steve and me our final warning. And then officers, who greatly outnumbered us, moved in and escorted us about 20 feet to the Frederick City police office, where we were quickly searched for weapons.

Sweet Dee and Joanna were booked first and never saw the inside of a jail cell. But Steve and I were put in adjacent concrete-block cells with sliding solid metal doors. Solitary confinement. The only opening on the door was a 4-by-6-inch window.

The cell had a metal bench with rings along the back wall, but I wasn’t handcuffed — or handcuffed to these rings. It also had a stainless steel toilet/sink combo on one side behind a partition. I was thirsty from all the yelling, but when I pushed the first of the three buttons on the sink, the toilet flushed. The only reading materials were the scratched messages on the bench from those who had gone before me under much more miserable circumstances. “Fox + Mel 4 Ever” was on someone’s mind. But so was “LSD” and “ebay.” And “This sux!”

My jail memoir will be short, as I was probably in the slammer about 35 minutes. Eventually, officers unlocked our cell doors and took us to an office for a mug shot and booking. They asked about our action. One officer had read a lot about global warming but said he hadn’t made up his mind about it yet. Another thought nuclear power was the answer.

post arrest by liz feighner

The Frederick Four, released from jail with our citations.//photo by Liz Feighner

And then we were free to leave.

My arrest was a small action. I was trying to help make the future come out differently from the way it’s headed, one small shove to help steer us from fossil fuels and their giant corporate pushers. The Frederick Four and the Cumberland Four are not alone. In August, more than 2,000 people participated in a days-long campaign against fracking in Balcombe in the United Kingdom, including 20 who blockaded the headquarters of energy company Cuadrilla and six who superglued themselves to the doors at the London headquarters of Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. Last June, in Zurawlow, a rural community in Poland, 150 farmers slept in fields and blockaded a drilling site with cars and trucks. In the fall, farmers in Pungest, Romania, cut cables laid for seismic testing, scooped them up and dragged them through the street to protest Chevron’s plans for fracking on their land. They also formed a human chain around the land where Chevron wanted to place test drills. “We have to do these kinds of things. It’s our duty,” one farmer said.

“We are Romania. We don’t want to sell our country,” they shouted, echoing our chants in Frederick. Or, here’s a new one: “Out you flea-ridden dirty dogs.”

They don’t want fracking for “schist.” Even though Chevron offered the Romanian farmers T-shirts and yogurt — a ploy wackily similar to the cheese pizza Chevron offered residents in Greene County, Pa., after a well pad explosion and fire that burned for days and killed one worker. Note to Chevron: Communities want clean water and a safe place to live, not free dairy products and clothing.

Also note: Schist and fracking. In any language, it sounds like a curse.

Sometimes, civil disobedience is our only currency. We don’t have millions to spend on disingenuous television, radio and Web ad campaigns about “clean” energy that really isn’t and “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” that are inflated and too often in the rescue, emergency and mopping-up industries. Sometimes all we can do is get in the way, slow the machinery, free our voices, give the science time to catch up and emerge.

maggies farm and pig

Fracking protesters locked themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at a farm in western Pennsylvania. http://bit.ly/1qwMp0d //photo from the shadbush environmental justice collective

Just yesterday, at least 30 people were arrested in Philadelphia to protest the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil. As were 398 students who either chained themselves to the White House gate or engaged in a mock human oil spill on a black tarp in an XL Dissent a week ago. In 2012, several protesters chained themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at Maggie Henry’s western Pennsylvania farm 4,000 feet from a proposed Shell fracking operation. In Youngstown, Ohio, a nonviolent protest blocked the gate to an injection well for fracking waste. Last year, Sandra Steingraber and 11 other citizen-turned-activists spent 10 days in jail for blocking the entrance to a planned gas storage facility in salt caverns under Seneca Lake in New York. “My small, nonviolent act of trespass,” Steingraber said at her sentencing, “is set against a larger, more violent one: the trespass of hazardous chemicals into water and air and thereby into our bodies. This is a form of toxic trespass.”

At a Seneca in the Balance forum last night, Steingraber said that we each have to figure out our role in this movement and that “we can spend our bodies if we need to.” But, be clear, “we are way beyond the ‘every little bit helps’ stage. … When you think about what it is you are going to do next, know that it has be really big and something really heroic.”

Civil disobedience has been key to many justice movements, from Alice Paul and Martin Luther King Jr. to the many anonymous protesters who sat in at factories, lunch counters, nuclear facilities and treetops. As folksinger Anne Feeney would say, I’ve now “been to jail for justice” with the Frederick Four. The battle against fracking and Cove Point is now part of the justice movement to save life on the planet from catastrophic warming and, along the way, create energy forms that don’t bring sickness and misery to others. And the window for acting is small, not unlike the one in my jail cell door.

–by elisabeth hoffman

group foto of arrests by ccan

ori speaking

Ori Gutin tells members of the state Public Service Commission that college students want clean-energy jobs.//photo by CCAN

Southern Maryland residents filled the Patuxent High School auditorium in Lusby on Saturday afternoon for state regulators’ sole public hearing on Dominion Resources’ plan to build a $3.8 billion facility for liquefying and exporting fracked gas from the town’s Cove Point plant. Area residents urged members of the Public Service Commission to deny Dominion’s permit on the grounds that the project would benefit the gas industry but threaten local safety and property values as well as the Maryland economy. Ruth Alice White attended the hearing and testified on behalf of HoCo ClimateChange. Following is her account of the day. Chesapeake Climate Action Network staff also provided some material.


This is one for the history books. Will the people of Calvert County and Maryland be able to persuade the state Public Service Commission that a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, the fourth-largest in the nation, is a bad idea for Cove Point?

The Public Service Commission (PSC), whose members are appointed by the governor with approval from the General Assembly, will just listen today. A sign says the room has 800-plus seats. Not every seat is filled but most are, and some people stand at the back and at the sides.

We know union members will talk about jobs. They have a huge food tent in the parking lot, which we anticipated because of a Facebook announcement.

Some arrived as early as 7 a.m. to line up for the noon hearing, because the testimony is in order of sign-ins. My goal was to arrive by 8 a.m., but I am later and already about 12 people are in line — all but one opposed to the facility. As the union workers come in from their parking lot breakfast, they are appalled to see us in line and protest the line. We hear police are in the area to keep order.

We sign in with relative order and a minimum of jostling. Finally, the commissioners start the hearing only a few minutes late and explain the ground rules: Each person will have five minutes to speak; commissioners will not comment or ask questions.

The first and second person to testify were not in line. The first is Calvert County Commissioner Gerald Clark, who says: “Good leadership is making decisions under duress from citizens.” He characterizes opponents as “emotional.”  Someone says, “Who elected him?” Mostly the audience is silent. But as he drones on, people start to call out: “Five-minute rule.” Because of his position, he is apparently exempt from the time limit. He mentions jobs and tax revenues. He doesn’t mention the secret tax breaks the county commissioners gave Dominion.

Up next is the county sheriff, Mike Evans. He is confident that his office can handle security at proposed plant. He doesn’t mention a hearing in Annapolis last week when Sen. Roy P. Dyson’s expressed grave concerns about whether the Department of Natural Resources Police would be able to handle security threats at Cove Point.


Chiquita Younger, who grew up in Lusby, says Dominion has left too many questions unanswered.//photo by Ruth Alice White

Finally, those who waited in line and signed up to testify are called to speak. Patuxent High graduate Chiquita Younger, a Lusby native and program associate at Interfaith Power & Light, is first.  “Congregations across Maryland feel called to protect our climate and our water, so they oppose Dominion’s plans to build a major climate polluter that will export fracked gas,” she said. “But I’m here to testify today because, for me, this is personal. I grew up in Lusby, and my family has deep roots here. I’m here to speak out for my niece, my sister, my mother, my grandmother, and all those in Calvert County who have not been able to get their questions answered about the pollution Cove Point will cause and the dangers it poses to their neighborhoods.”

Jorge Aguilar, the southern region director of Food & Water Watch, says LNG exports won’t help the middle class – a theme repeated frequently by those testifying. “Natural gas companies always fail to deliver on the rosy economic forecasts they make,” he said. “In fact, a recent Department of Energy study on LNG exports said that the net economic benefits will actually lead to lower real wage growth due to increases in the price of natural gas domestically. The Cove Point project is an environmental and economic disaster waiting to happen.”

Sitting next to me is Robin Broder of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. She testifies that exporting LNG from Cove Point will increase pressure to frack in the George Washington National Forest, the watershed that provides the drinking water for millions in the Washington, DC, area. “What happens here will have ripple effects across the region,” she says.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says the project will have radical effects on the entire state and region. “The PSC is here to serve the entire Maryland public. … Economically, it is hard to argue this makes sense for the state,” he said, because everyone will pay higher prices for natural gas.

Jean Marie Neal of the Cove of Calvert Homeowners Association lives across the road from the proposed LNG export facility and she, of course, is concerned about safety.  But she emphasizes fairness and process. How did Dominion evade the law that requires two years between project application and construction? Why did county commissioners waive zoning and building codes for the project? Who is safeguarding the citizens? Oh, and that six-story “sound barrier” Dominion has been talking about for months to “protect” citizens from noise at the site? A Federal Energy Regulatory  Commission (FERC) document posted to its website this week shows it is also a barrier for containing flammable vapor clouds in case of an explosion. FERC has said the proposed wall is insufficient and needs to be expanded. Why did Dominion repeatedly say the wall was only a sound barrier? And the supposedly 3,000 jobs (1,700 to 3,000, Dominion said) are JOB YEARS, so if 1,500 people work two years that counts as 3,000 “jobs,” Neal says.

“As a resident living and raising a family very close to the Dominion Cove Point terminal, I am alarmed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is on the verge of approving one of the first LNG export facilities ever to be built in the United States —within 4,500 feet of approximately 360 residences and next door to a public park,” says Sue Allison, a homeowner living within view of Dominion’s facility and a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “I call upon the Public Service Commission to demand that FERC produce a publicly accessible, rigorous, quantitative assessment of the risks that Dominion’s facility poses to those residents living, playing or attending school in close proximity.”

Greg Farmer, who lives in Calvert County and worked on economic development in the Clinton administration, testifies that this is NOT economic development.

University of Maryland student Ori Gutin explains how unpopular this proposal is with many at the College Park campus who long to work in clean-energy jobs. Those in favor of Cove Point argue that the plant is good for business. But Gutin and many others say solar and wind could provide so many more jobs now and in the future — if only we would invest that money now.

Tracey Eno, a homeowner living within 1.5 miles of Dominion’s facility and a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, says some people say they are environmentalists but “I am a people-ist. I am worried about the people.”  She mentions health and safety risks, decreasing property values, and the sound wall that is really a vapor cloud wall. This massive, unprecedented industrial plant would be next to where people live, she says.

David Harding talks eloquently about Little Cove Point Road and the planned overnight heavy traffic — to avoid traffic jams during the day.

I speak for www.HoCoClimateChange.org and echo common themes: air and water quality, beauty of the area, the sound/toxic vapor barrier, more compressor stations and pipelines throughout Maryland, increase in fracking (including the Taylorsville Basin, which extends north from Virginia to Annapolis), increase in gas prices, and the fact that gas is not a bridge fuel — it is a bridge to a cliff and fatal for our children and grandchildren. The whole gas process leaks methane, which increases climate change. So many friends in Howard County share these concerns. I feel their energy around me, and this helps me speak up and keep my voice strong in this huge room, standing at these intimidating microphones.

One woman testifies that she’s concerned about the facility’s proximity to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. She calls the plan a “privatization of profit and socialization of risks … and the local residents are left with all the risks.”

Cathy Mazur says Lusby is already a non-attainment area for air quality. Dominion will have to purchase carbon offsets in other areas in order to pollute the air here. But, she asks, how will offsets elsewhere help Calvert County residents who already have substandard air?

One man, questioning the wisdom of exporting the gas, testifies that propane exports have led to a shortage of heating fuel for homes across the country this winter.

The hall had been filled with union workers, but as they trickle out during the hearing the folks remaining are predominately those wearing red shirts and “NO COVE POINT” stickers.

Dan Craley asks whether some jobs and tax dollars are worth polluting our children’s future?

More testimony pro and con. A supporter of Dominion paints opponents as retirees who care nothing about the unemployed or the working class. But he ignores the hardworking Calvert citizens present who are obviously not of retirement age. He also ignores that Dominion is seeking maximum profits with short-term jobs rather than investing in solar and wind and green technologies that will provide many more jobs for many years to come. The weight of this unending recession on middle-income and unemployed people, on those foreclosed and risking foreclosure surfaces repeatedly in the testimony of those supporting this project. But this one project will not solve the job and money woes for Calvert County or this state. It will enrich Dominion and the gas industry, but impoverish residents in ways described so eloquently.

My head is spinning, but the next speakers do not reply to these attacks. They move on. Kelly Canavan points out that this project does not provide power for any Maryland residents and is not in the public interest. There is no trade-off with this plant. We get the pollution. Dominion gets the money. That’s it.

Janet Ashby tells the PSC members, “Your duty is for the necessity and convenience of MARYLAND.”

I am ready to leave – it is midafternoon and many people, mainly supporters are still here. But I stay to hear a few more. “Without health, money is meaningless,” Cathy Zumbrun says. She fears an accident and distrusts the gas industry.

As I walk out, the last speaker is trying to use black comedy – a last-gasp argument against all of us naysayers. She starts dramatically, almost yelling: “You will die.” Pause.  “I will die, too. We will all die. Global warming – is this really real?” Her point is that all life has risk and that we have to live now and move forward. She pokes grim fun at everyone who has talked about real consequences from building this plant.

All I can think of as I walk out is the movie “Dr. Strangelove.” I guess I am punchy after all this. But I have missed time with my husband and haven’t spoken yet to my daughter or grandson today. Those I love pull me back. And in the hour-and-a-half drive back, I talk to an old friend from high school who grew up in Maryland but lives in Arizona. Can she understand what our state and region are facing now?


Mike Tidwell of CCAN says the Cove Point plan is a radical turn in the wrong direction for Maryland.//photo by Ruth Alice White